A survivor's tale

Updated: 2013-05-15 05:31

By Erik Nilsson and Huang Zhiling (China Daily)

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 A survivor's tale

Bian Gangfen was saved from the debris 125 hours after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. Photos by Huo Yan / China Daily

 A survivor's tale

After her life-death experience, Bian says she has a brighter outlook on life.

Bian Gangfen's family had started to give up hope she would be found alive after the devastating 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. But Bian, trapped under mountains of debris, knew she would live to see her loved ones again.

Erik Nilsson and Huang Zhiling report in Shifang, Sichuan.

Bian Gangfen's family had already started to mourn her death when she was miraculously raised from the rubble - 125 hours after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.

After waiting and praying for days, some of her loved ones had given up hope.

"They had bought paper funerary money, candles and incense and had burned them," Bian says. "But my sister refused. She said I must still be alive. She pointed out that thousands of people were still waiting for loved ones to return."

Bian not only knew she was alive, but that she would survive and escape the debris.

"I couldn't move at all," she recalls. "I had no food or water. There was a puddle of rainwater, but I was afraid to drink it because I had to urinate in it. But I thought, 'I must survive'. So I drank it."

She spent five days and nights pinned under the rubble of what had been a second-floor teahouse in a five-story building in Yinghua township in Shifang, Sichuan province.

"I had to live for my child. I was too young to go. I knew rescuers would save me because I had seen them working in a blizzard on the TV news," Bian recalls.

Rather than wait for help, however, she tried to save herself. "I tried to dig a hole with my hands," she says. "My fingers swelled. I didn't get anywhere."

Bian passed the time chatting with a young man she knew who was also trapped beneath the debris. The man, who ate a pack of cigarettes to stave off hunger, was rescued after 106 hours.

"That gave me new hope," Bian says. "In the debris, I told him I'd introduce him to a woman. So he had to make it out of the rubble."

The two have stayed in touch, but the man is yet to find Miss Right. He became a soldier, motivated by his gratitude to those who rescued him.

"We would have both died without each other," Bian says.

While Bian's loved ones worried about her from above the rubble, she says she worried about them from under it.

She had no inkling at the time that her husband had been partially blinded and burned trying to save a co-worker at the chemical plant. He had pushed a female colleague out of the way when a vat of acid tumbled down. The woman did not survive.

"Her clothes burned off, so they put a new dress on her," Bian says. "That melted, too."

Acid burns covered her husband's body, except for his chest. He was blinded in one eye, which he can no longer close.

"He cried out of both eyes when we were reunited 10 days after I was pulled out from the rubble," Bian says. "It was exhilarating to see him again. I was so frightened but also overjoyed. We just held each other tightly and sobbed."

She says she has gotten used to her husband's appearance. Yet it has taken her time to get used to the dark.

"When I was trapped I had to open my eyes, even though I could only see darkness. If I closed my eyes I was more afraid," she says.

Bian initially said the major change in her life since the quake is that she bought a car. Then she remembered that she has learned Putonghua since the disaster from speaking to outsiders about her experience. The fact her husband was blinded appears to be an afterthought.

The couple still work for the same companies. Bian earns 1,300 yuan ($210) a month, while her husband brings home about 2,000 yuan.

"After the quake, the chemical factory offered him an easy job," Bian says. "They tried to make him a janitor. He refused. He knew he could do more."

She says her husband initially had an "inferiority complex" after the disaster. But he has gotten over it.

"Our relationship is the same," she adds. "I'll never desert him. It's amazing both of us survived the quake. We should cherish and love each other more."

Contact the writers through huangzhiling@chinadaily.com.cn.

(China Daily 05/15/2013 page20)